Trying Out SmartMusic

I have recently begun using SmartMusic, mainly with my elementary band students. I am LOVING it, and my students are really enjoying it as well. In fact, on the 2nd day of using it with my small sixth grade group today, when I asked who wanted to go first, all hands immediately shot up in the air. I have never seen students so excited to play in class! The more I learn about the program, the more impressed I am with it. The integrated online gradebook, called “Impact” is really amazing. When students complete assignments, they are sent directly to your gradebook, and it calculates everything for you. You can even add other assignments that are not necessarily SmartMusic assignments.

Right now, I do not have any students currently enrolled in my classes, but most students have shown interest in getting the program at home. We are currently using the program on my personal laptop. I also am using the program weekly for graded assignments with the students. However, I am not factoring in these SmartMusic grades with their report card grades until next year. I still want to find out how much the software will impact their grade before I really “make it count.”

I am already noticing the added benefits while using it in class. First, the students are really excited to work with the program, and I can see this being a good practice motivator. What is also great about the program is that it forces students to play at a steadytempo. This is something that my students struggle with regularly. If they are playing along with the software at home, it will really help their time. Our Standard of Excellence books now come with accompaniment CDs, and I have found that students that practice with those CDs have a much better sense of time than those who do not.

What I worry about with the program is that it may frustrate those students who struggle. I hope that it motivates them to practice more, but I can see it becoming a deterrent. My concern is that those who struggle will get frustrated and lose some confidence as a result of getting “bad grades” on their playing tests. But, I have also found that students who struggle can consistently see improvements in their grades after repeated playing.

I am also a little worried that students will not utilize the “loop” feature that is offered in the software. In other words, I am concerned that they will simply play exercises from beginning to end over and over without just focusing on the areas that they need to work on. I guess I should remember that this software is a practice aid, and does not simply replace the teacher. This brings me to another point. The major drawback to the software is that I don’t think it can accurately measure articulations, dymanics and/or note lengths. Mostly, the program can only recognize correct pitches and rhythms. But this is half the battle, and the teacher must be diligent in still teaching musicianship, not just “button pushing.”

So these are my observations so far in about 3 weeks of using the program. I have also used it a little with my middle and senior high students with concert and jazz band music. I plan on rolling out the program fully in the fall for next year.

What are your experiences with the program? Have you used it? Are you currently using it? I look forward to your feedback.

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Adjudication Experience – Great!!

This afternoon, my senior high concert band attended our first ever PMEA adjudication festival. I have wanted to do one for a few years, but have always been apprehensive about doing it. After some great encouragement by my colleagues, I finally decided to send my group this year. I must admit that I was nervous at the beginning of the semester, because I wasn’t quite sure if we’d be able to pull it off. But, as I commented earlier, preparing for this adjudication has really helped me to be a better teacher. We finally started to sight-read on a regular basis, and I was much more focused in my rehearsal time.

The students played great today, and I am so proud of them. They achieved an “Excellent” rating, which is the 2nd highest they could have acheived.  We performed Erickson’s “Air for Band” and Grundman’s “Kentucky 1800.” Anyway, after a wonderful experience here are my observations:

1. First and foremost, I will definitely do this again. I may even go so far as to say that we’ll do it every year. My students got so much out of the experience, and I’m sure that this will prove true when we begin to listen to the judges’ tapes as well.

2. I am impressed with how calm my students appeared to be throughout their performance. Either they felt very confident and were very well prepared and not nervous, or they did a very good job of hiding it. This is very good, because I always feel like we don’t always play as well as we could because of our nerves.

3. That leads me to #3…I don’t think my students could have possibly played better than they did today. I feel that their performance was a very accurate representation today of their true ability. I told the students before they played today to remember that no matter what happened today, that is was only a snapshot of how they played on this particular day. I’m just glad that they performed up to their potential. 🙂

4. The event was VERY well run by Gary Taylor from Wilminton HS. Everything ran smoothly, and the atmosphere at the venue was relaxed, yet formal, and very good for the students. Maybe this is why they were so calm during their performance.

5. My students did a great job on the sight-reading component! They really surprised me, because I thought that is where we would struggle the most. But, we actually read the piece from beginning to end without stopping once, and no train wrecks!

6. If you have not taken your groups to an adjudication experience, you must do it! It was a wonderful experience, and I know my students got A LOT out of it! Don’t keep putting it off like I did! Just go do it!